Exhibition at Philadelphia Museum of Art explores "a sense of place"
A new exhibition of works from six photographers opened this week at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including Paul Caponigro, James Fee, Paul Strand, Laurie Brown, John Divola, and Alan MacWeeney. Entitled Particulars of Place: Photo Portfolios from the Collection, the exhibition examines the sense of place in photography of the twentieth century.
An early and dedicated believer in the power of sequenced pictures, Paul Strand portrays a place close to his heart as well as close to home in The Garden, a tribute to his undisciplined plot of land in Orgeval, France. Paul Caponigro tackles the majestic and spiritual overtones of the ancient menhirs (or standing stones—ed.) at Stonehenge in his portfolio of a dozen photographs from his extensive series on the subject.
A sense of place is commonly referred to in discussions of not only photography and visual art, but also of film, fiction, and even music. It's one of those near-clichés that I am proud to name-drop whenever I can, since there really is no other way to describe it. The sense of place can manifest over the course of an entire body of work or series, as in James Fee's series taken at Dolores River, Colorado, where the scope of man's interference with nature is laid bare.
James Fee passed away in September 2006, leaving a legacy of black-and-white photographs that are by turns haunting and inspirational. He captured many tragic images of abandoned and neglected places in the United States and abroad. His series from the Eastern Philadelphia State Penitentiary is on view, and the sense of place makes itself apparent in the smallest of details, working on the subconscious level.
California-based James Fee made his series of photographs there in 1995, using views of the penitentiary's storeroom, machine shop, and infirmary to record some of the left-behind objects that hint at the lives of former inmates. The artist made his negatives using a nineteenth-century wet-plate photographic process and employed other techniques to diffuse the detail of his subjects. The resulting hazy, imperfect quality of his prints suggest the passage of time and, by offering only indistinct glimpses of the penitentiary, reminds us of the many untold stories within its walls.
You can view information on the exhibit, which runs through November 4, 2007, here.
I suppose I'm fairly preoccupied with the sense of place, as an enthusiast of both fine art photography and of storytelling. Am I sounding like a broken record? Don't hesitate to let me know!